SYDNEY - An international police operation is targeting corrupt Chinese officials who have fled to Australia with an estimated $1 billion in bribes and embezzled money.

China has enlisted the help of several Western countries in a far-reaching anti-corruption campaign.

Within weeks, Australian authorities are expected to seize the assets of seven of China’s most wanted economic criminals.

It is part of China's Operation Fox Hunt, which began in July and is now targeting former communist officials who have relocated to the West, often under assumed identities. They are accused of stealing vast amounts of money from the state.

Shaun Rein, the managing director of the China Market Research Group, said several suspects posing as wealthy businessmen have been allowed to resettle in Australia’s biggest city.
“When you go into Sydney, you know, a lot of the $10-, $20-, $30-million properties, are being bought by Chinese with connections to officialdom. These people are not the prize that a lot of Australians had hoped for, and that they are really corrupt; they are not necessarily the type of business people that you want as part of your community,” said Rein.

There is no extradition treaty between Australia and China, but Canberra can consider such requests for offenses falling under the U.N. Convention against Corruption.

Australian police believe potential suspects include naturalized Australian citizens who have laundered money for years, pretending the funds were genuine business investment from China.

The Australian Federal Police has said it has successfully confiscated the proceeds of crime from Chinese economic fugitives.

The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity group, which researches the illicit flow of money, estimates that more than a $1 trillion was illegally channeled out of China from 2002 to 2011.

Despite the anti-corruption drive, Australia last week announced measures to attract more investment from wealthy Chinese, including speeding up visa approvals and expanding investment opportunities.